Love Opens Our Eyes to Beauty

According to Jean Anouilh, “Things are beautiful if you love them.” Love opens our eyes to beauty. In our culture, consumerism, materialism, and superficiality have created an epidemic of insecurity and distorted notions of beauty and attractiveness. And racism is intertwined with these lenses that warp the perceptions of many.

I recently ran across a terrific speech by Lupita Nyong’o in which she spoke about being younger and feeling unbeautiful—being teased about the shade of her skin and praying to God to have lighter skin. Her mom provided her with the wisdom that beauty was not something that she could consume, but something she just had to be. And she came to identify beauty with compassion.

When famous black women like Lupita Nyong’o are held up as symbols of beauty, it can perhaps help to alleviate some of the insecurity that young women with dark skin might experience, but her own story points to the limits of this. And she herself recognizes this, which is why she counseled girls to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.” This focus on compassion and character is an important, valuable message.

But even beyond this, there is a need to move past the artificial divide between external and internal beauty. When we love someone and recognize their beauty, we see the whole person. To divide them and focus on their internal or external nature is to depersonalize them, to strip them of their fundamental unity, their integral nature.

The reason Lupita Nyong’o’s mom could recognize her beauty was not because she looked at her internal beauty rather than her external appearance. It was because her mom had the ability to see her as she truly was, as one whole person. Love does not blind us to real beauty; it opens our eyes to it. The people who completely love the way their loved ones look are the ones who are right, not the ones with distorted vision. They become capable of seeing the beauty of this human person who has been made in the image of God—closer to seeing this person the way the God of Love sees each of us.

The way we see our loved ones should teach us about the worth and preciousness and beauty of each person. It should motivate us to dispense with notions of beauty and attractiveness that are inevitably dehumanizing, rooted in prejudice, and deeply harmful to others.

But if love cannot motivate us to do that, perhaps the desire to eradicate racism can. Even if the colorism and racism of aesthetic preferences that so many consciously and unconsciously accept feels uncontrollable or inevitable, it is not. There is a responsibility to dig deep into oneself and root out that bigotry, even if the majority of people casually accept it, and to view people as they are, as unique whole persons who are made in the image of God.

When I see little black girls express shame or disdain for their hair or the darkness of their skin, whether on the playground or in viral videos, this wounds me. I am physically sickened by the racism that generates deep insecurities and self-hatred. And my heart aches, not just because of the hurt experienced by these little girls and the pain their loved ones must experience when a precious child of God is blind to their own beauty, but also because of how casually our culture accepts this.

It’s time to start caring. It’s time to eradicate this bigotry. It is time to treat all human beings as whole persons.

One of the great champions of this type of personalism—of seeing and valuing people as they are—was Fred Rogers, the subject of the recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. And in one of his most famous and beloved songs, Mr. Rogers expressed what it’s like to truly see someone and appreciate them:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.

A loving parent knows what it is like to love every part of a person, just as Mr. Rogers describes in the song.  A truly loving spouse does too. Once we see that we are perfectly capable of seeing people as whole persons, we can turn our backs on a culture of objectification. When we recognize that love opens our eyes to beauty, we can set aside those prejudices that we call preferences, and more and more people will feel comfortable recognizing their own worth and beauty.


Evaluating Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh through a Whole Life Prism

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Heidi Schlumpf has a new article that asks if US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is whole life, featuring the responses of a few whole life Catholic commentators. She notes that “Catholics are not monolithic, some will be happy with Kavanaugh, while others have serious concerns.” This is, of course, true. Catholics don’t fit into one box—right now there are mass-attending pro-choice liberals who are fretting about the prospect of Roe and Casey being overturned, while more conservative and libertarian Catholics may be excited by the idea of a right-wing Court that eschews judicial restraint in favor of pro-corporate, small government activism. She then quotes me:

“But for those who pretty consistently embrace the communitarian approach of Catholic social teaching and Pope Francis’ opposition to the throwaway culture, there is most often dissatisfaction with the current state of the Court and the prospect of new justices who will increase its polarization and politicization.”

With these Catholics and others who embrace a whole life approach, there is (and should be) great concern about justices using a supposedly textualist or originalist approach to overturn or undermine voting rights, gun control, environmental regulations, campaign finance reform, labor rights, consumer protections, financial regulation, and access to healthcare. Catholics who genuinely care about the common good don’t want people with preexisting conditions to lose their health insurance because of an overly activist Court that overturns a law that even many conservative judges and legal scholars consider constitutional. They do not want underregulation that could lead to another Great Recession or impenetrable barriers to political reform that stand in the way of redemocratizing our system of government and decreasing the dominance of economic elites.

At the same time, many who believe in the equal dignity and worth of each person would like to see an end to the liberal overreach, with rulings based on emanations and penumbras, that resulted in the US having one of the most permissive, libertarian approaches to abortion in the world. Some would like to give state legislatures carte blanche in regulating abortion, while others believe that 14th amendment protections should apply to unborn children.  Religious freedom is another key issue in Catholic social teaching that many serious Catholics and other proponents of universal human rights care deeply about, particularly given the threat of anti-Muslim discrimination at the present moment.

Given these priorities and the breadth of Catholic social teaching and the whole life agenda, in contrast to the focus on one or two issues that many special interest groups and voters with very little knowledge of constitutional law embrace, it is not surprising that there is trepidation about our increasingly polarized parties’ efforts to place their fellow ideologues on the Court and concern that this may be happening once again.

Schlumpf quotes other whole lifers, including Stephen Schneck and Kristen Day, who describe the importance of a whole approach in evaluating Kavanaugh and their initial thoughts on how his selection might measure up:

Stephen Schneck, former director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, said he has “a great deal of concern” about Kavanaugh’s record on issues such as health care, union rights, immigration and the environment.

“I hope he reflects on the whole of what’s incumbent on us as Catholics in public life,” Schneck told NCR.

Although he is hopeful that a pro-life justice like Kavanaugh might make some “progress against the problem of abortion in the United States,” Schneck added, “As Catholics, we can’t just look at these things narrowly from the perspective of abortion.”

The pro-life organization Democrats for Life is cautiously optimistic about Kavanaugh’s nomination, given his previous decisions that would seem to support limits, if not a complete overturning, of Roe v. Wade.

“But we’re also pro-life for the whole life,” said Democrats for Life’s executive director, Kristen Day, citing affordable health care, paid maternity leave and opposition to the death penalty as other important issues.

“We want to encourage pro-life legislators to really examine [Kavanaugh’s] record, look at his philosophy and give him a fair and careful look,” Day said.


Why Catholics Care About Economic Justice

In a new Vatican document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (“Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System”), which was approved by Pope Francis, one section explains how the Church’s understanding of the social nature of the human person provides the foundation for the Church’s commitment to economic justice.

The document locates a key underlying source of economic injustice: “our contemporary age has shown itself to have a limited vision of the human person, as the person is understood individualistically and predominantly as a consumer” (9).

Catholic teaching rejects this extreme individualism, recognizing that human persons are social by nature:

Every person is born within a familial environment, enjoying a set of pre-existing relationships without which life would be impossible. The human person develops through the stages of life thanks to pre-existing bonds that actualize one’s being in the world as freedom continuously shared. These are the original bonds that define the human person as a relational being who lives in what Christian Revelation calls “communion”. (10)

This personalist understanding of the person and freedom offers a clear alternative to the extreme individualism of our age. It also provides the baseline for the Catholic understanding of human flourishing and ethics:

This original nature of communion, while revealing in every human person a trace of the affinity with God who creates and calls one into a relationship with himself, is also that which naturally orients the person to the life of communion, the fundamental place for one’s fulfillment. One’s own recognition of this character, as an original and constitutive element of our human identity, allows us to look at others not primarily as potential competitors, but rather as possible allies, in the construction of the good that is authentic only if it is concerned about each and every person simultaneously. (10)

The centrality of the quest for communion leads to a communitarian approach in pursuing social and economic justice that aims at fostering the global common good:

Such relational anthropology helps the human person to recognize the validity of economic strategies that aim above all to promote the global quality of life that, before the indiscriminate expansion of profits, leads the way toward the integral well-being of the entire person and of every person. No profit is in fact legitimate when it falls short of the objective of the integral promotion of the human person, the universal destination of goods, and the preferential option for the poor. These are three principles that imply and necessarily point to one another, with a view to the construction of a world that is more equitable and united. (10)

Markets, therefore, do not create morality, but must be properly ordered and utilized to promote higher principles of justice that directly flow from the Christian understanding of the human person:

For this reason, progress within an economic system cannot measured only by quantitative and profit-driven standards, but also on the basis of the well-being that extends a good that is not simply material. Every economic system is legitimate if it thrives not merely through the quantitative development of exchange but rather by its capacity to promote the development of the entire person and of every person. (10)


The Alcohol-Cancer Link and Big Alcohol’s Efforts to Downplay it

Stephanie Mencimer has written one of the most important articles in recent years. It’s on alcohol, breast cancer, and the industry’s efforts to try to make moderate alcohol use seem healthy. I encourage everyone to read it in full. Here are just some of the many important points in this exceptional piece:

  • At 47, I was a decade and a half younger than the median age for breast cancer diagnosis in the United States. Was this just bad luck? Maybe, but the journalist in me was still curious to know: Why me? So I dug into the literature on risk factors to see where I might have fit in…While doctors have frequently admonished me for putting cream in my coffee lest it clog my arteries—a correlation that’s been pretty thoroughly debunked—not once has any doctor suggested I might face a higher cancer risk if I didn’t cut back on drinking.
  • I quickly discovered that way back in 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it’s been proved to cause cancer. There is no known safe dosage in humans, according to the WHO. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent.
  • The research linking alcohol to breast cancer is deadly solid. There’s no controversy here. Alcohol, regardless of whether it’s in Everclear or a vintage Bordeaux, is carcinogenic.
  • Observant Mormon women don’t drink, and like other populations that abstain, they have significantly lower rates of breast cancer than drinkers. In Utah, Mormon women’s breast cancer rates are more than 24 percent lower than the national average.
  • Fearing health advocates would do to alcohol what they had done to tobacco, the industry fought back with an audacious marketing campaign. Alcohol companies worked to rebrand booze as a staple of a healthy lifestyle, like salads and jogging.
  • Marketing alcohol as a health product should be a tough sell. Cancer is only one of the many ways it can kill you. Drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, injuries, domestic violence, liver disease—alcohol is responsible for the deaths of nearly 90,000 Americans every year, more than double the estimated 40,000 US opioid deaths in 2015.
  • Big Tobacco had set up research centers to dispute science tying smoking to lung cancer and funded research designed to show benefits from smoking, like stress reduction, to help fend off stricter regulation. The alcohol industry took a similar tack, aided by research it had been funding since the late 1960s.
  • Between 1972 and 1993, Turner bragged, the beer foundation and its precursor funded more than 500 studies on alcohol and distributed grants to dozens of researchers and universities.
  • At least a half-dozen government officials working on alcohol policy have left for gigs with the industry over the past 20 years.
  • Like 76 percent of Americans surveyed by the American Heart Association in 2011, I believed a little wine was good for the ticker. The fact is, people wantto believe that drinking is good for them, and the science in this field is easy to manipulate to convince them.
  • Stockwell and Fillmore analyzed decades’ worth of studies on alcohol and heart disease. Once they excluded studies with ex-drinkers—which was most of them—the heart benefits of alcohol largely disappeared. Since then, a host of other studies have found that drinking does not provide any heart benefits. (Some studies have found that drinking small amounts of alcohol—sometimes less than one drink per day—can be beneficial for certain people at risk of heart disease.) Robert Brewer, who runs an alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “Studies do not support that there are benefits of moderate drinking.” The Agriculture Department removed language suggesting that alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease in the most recent US Dietary Guidelines.
  • Yet the debate rages on, in part because the industry continues to fund and promote studies indicating that alcohol helps the heart. The NIAAA is currently embarking on another one with $100 million in funding, most of which was solicited directly from the industry, according to the New York Times.
  • Public health experts say that even if there is a small heart benefit from alcohol, it will never outweigh the risks….That’s why the American Heart Association strongly warns people not to start drinking if they don’t already.
  • Other studies suggest that the risk of premenopausal breast cancer goes up 34 percent for every daily drink consumed before the age of 30. And the longer women go between their first period and their first baby, the riskier drinking becomes.
  • Just as the evidence was becoming clear that women are disproportionately vulnerable to alcohol’s cancer risks, the industry mounted a campaign to get them to drink even more.
  • The campaigns seem to have worked. An NIAAA study found that drinking by women jumped 16 percent between 2001 and 2013, more than twice the increase among men. The change is greatest among white women, 71 percent of whom drink today, compared with 64 percent in 1997, according to a Washington Post The alcohol-related death rate for white women more than doubled between 1999 and 2015.
  • South Korea has tightened its recommended alcohol limits, and new Dutch guidelines urge people not to drink at all, but if they do, to consume no more than one drink a day. In December, Ireland’s upper house of parliament approved a cancer warning label for alcohol that is now being debated in the lower house. Even the Russians raised their alcohol taxes.
  • For more than a decade, the alcohol industry has bulldozed long-standing public health regulations designed to reduce harmful consumption. It has mounted successful campaigns to allow the sale of liquor in supermarkets and on Sundays and to loosen restrictions on the hours liquor can be served in restaurants and bars. Not surprisingly, alcohol consumption per capita in the United States, which hit a 34-year low in 1997, has shot up to levels not seen in two decades.
  • While other countries are considering World Health Organization recommendations to impose steeper alcohol taxes, the tax law President Donald Trump signed in December further slashed US alcohol excise taxes, which, thanks to inflation, were already down as much as 80 percent since the 1950s.
  • …higher excise taxes, limits on the number of outlets selling alcohol in a particular area, stricter enforcement of underage drinking laws, and caps on the numbers of days and hours when alcohol can be sold…There’s a huge body of research supporting the effectiveness of these policies, yet there is not a single public health group in Washington lobbying for any of them.
  • Government funding for alcohol harm reduction has also dried up. In 2009, the Justice Department budget for grants to states to enforce underage drinking laws was $25 million. By 2015, it was zero. At the request of the Obama White House, Congress also eliminated an Education Department program that combated underage drinking, among other initiatives.
  • The press, which starting with Morley Safer has flooded readers with stories declaring that drinking is good for your health, has repeatedly accepted alcohol companies’ largesse

Paul Ryan Never Stopped Being Paul Ryan, Unfortunately

EJ Dionne writes:

Ryan has been driven by two priorities throughout his career: slashing taxes on the best-off Americans, and eviscerating social-welfare and safety-net programs in the name of “entitlement reform.” Whatever advanced these objectives was worth doing….

Although Ryan gave warm speeches about compassion, his biggest fear was not that the poor might go without food or health care but, as he once said, that the “safety net” might “become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.”

He later backed away from Rand and acknowledged that the hammock was “the wrong analogy.” But his policies suggested he never abandoned his core faith: If the wealthy did best when given positive incentives in the form of more money, the less fortunate needed to be prodded by less generous social policies into taking responsibility for their own fate.

Given where Ryan’s passions lie, it is unsurprising that he would prop Trump up as long as the president was willing to embrace a modern-day social Darwinism that married efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act with reductions in government’s impositions on the managers and owners of capital. The retiring speaker really does believe that this is the path to the good society. To pursue it, he’ll take help wherever he can get it.

Jonathan Chait writes:

Ryan submitted himself fully to the president. As House Speaker, Ryan has played an indispensable role in insulating Trump from public and legal accountability. Ryan has buried votes that would compel the release of Trump’s tax returns, and unleashed Devin Nunes to run a counter-investigation designed to discredit the Department of Justice and ultimately clear the way for Trump to halt the probe of Russian interference on his behalf.

This has not gone the exact way Ryan would have liked. In his perfect world, Republicans would run on tax cuts, carry out deep cuts to social insurance programs, and everyone in America would be devouring editorials from The Wall Street Journal. But political reality demands compromises. And those constraints have forced Ryan to choose what really matters to him: the protection of the makers from the predations of the takers.

The critics who flay Ryan as a coward have never understood that his actions are a form of idealism. To Ryan, the greatest danger to liberty lies not in a president who defies the rule of law but in high tax rates and a functioning social safety net. When Ryan speaks with pride about the policy accomplishments he helped carry out with Trump, he is not spinning. In Ryan’s worldview, he has struck a powerful blow for liberty against the socialist hordes. Ryan leaves his endangered majority convinced he has done his job well. It is a triumph of his own propaganda that so few people believe he is actually sincere about this.

Jonathan Cohn and Arthur Delaney write:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has spent the better part of his political career trying to shred America’s social safety net, so that literally tens of millions of Americans would lose supports they use to get food, health care and pay their most basic bills.

Ryan, who announced Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election this fall, mostly hasn’t succeeded in this effort. But he has left an indelible impact on the Republican Party’s identity.

As an architect of the GOP’s budget blueprints, its vice presidential nominee in 2012 and the leader of the House’s majority caucus since 2015, Ryan has laid out a detailed, sweeping agenda of lower taxes and government spending. If ever fully enacted, it would arguably amount to the most radical domestic policy overhaul since the mid-1960s.

Ryan’s one big victory was on taxes ― he was instrumental in writing and passing the bill that President Donald Trump signed late last year. It will dramatically reduce what the wealthiest Americans pay, realizing one of Ryan’s long-held dreams.

But so far, at least, Republicans haven’t privatized Medicare, repealed the Affordable Care Act, or transformed programs like food stamps into smaller, state-run initiatives. And while most Republicans still endorse these proposals, the public does not.

Ultimately, that could be Ryan’s true legacy: Tethering his party to an extreme, deeply conservative agenda that the public rejects, starting with the November midterm elections….

After the 2012 presidential election, Ryan made a concerted effort to put the makers-and-takers rhetoric behind. He traveled the country visiting private-sector charities that rehabilitated drug addicts and helped them find jobs.

But his agenda never really changed.

The poverty tour resulted in a book and a new policy pitch that simply applied the “welfare reform” playbook to all federal poverty programs, albeit with a greater emphasis on case management for poor people.

And just last year, during a public discussion of Medicaid with National Review editor Rich Lowry, he remarked that “we’ve been dreaming” about cuts to such social programs “since you and I were drinking out of a keg.”


Cardinal Chito and the Power of Christian Witness

If Pope Francis’ successor is Pope Francis II, there is a very good chance that Cardinal Luis Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, will be the man who has succeeded him. And it’s easy to see why.

In I Have Learned From the Least, Cardinal Chito, as he is affectionately known to so many, provides us with an overview of his background and insights into his approach as a bishop, teacher, thinker, and man of God. What stands out most are his integrity, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and commitment to living a life of love.

Cardinal Chito is the paradigmatic ‘Francis Bishop’. His smile, kindness, and infectious joy draw people in to hear the Good News. His focus on the poor and vulnerable reflects the priorities and commands of Christ. He discusses the importance of meeting with the poor—listening and learning from them. Though possessing strong academic credentials, he is conscious of ensuring that abstract ideas do not distort concrete reality. Echoing Pope Francis, he says that theologians should smell of sheep a bit more.

His disciplined, precise mind is used to foster dialogue and fraternity rather than to feed culture wars and legalistic hunts for those who defy subjective purity tests. He notes that “when church leaders speak like angry politicians rather than as loving pastors, young people no longer want to listen to them.” He understands the importance of welcoming young people and fostering a sense of belonging, especially for those who have moved away from their families and feel isolated and alienated. This drives his welcoming approach, while motivating him to reach out to young people wherever they might be, even on social media.

He discusses the threats that consumerism, materialism, and secularism pose to young people without slipping into scolding those who may have been tempted by such false paths. He understands the power of witness. Young people need to see an alternative to those paths. They need to see faithful Christians who live out their faith, who live with authenticity, and live lives worthy of admiration and emulation.

Authenticity as a Christian means showing a sincere, consistent commitment to social justice, and Cardinal Chito’s commitment to the common good is clear. He talks about democracy and human rights. He calls out politicians for ignoring the poor. He emphasizes the need to care for God’s creation, noting that the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer from the effects of climate change. He shows a keen understanding of migration—its root causes and its effects. He discusses the need to humanize globalization so that its benefits are more inclusive. This all reflects his commitment to Catholic social teaching and Gospel values. It shows a Christian worldview that takes its personalism and communitarianism not merely from philosophy or theology books but through encounter, especially with the poor and vulnerable.

In reading the book, one gets the sense that this is a person who is fully secure in his faith, his commitment to the poor, and his belief that love should animate his actions. He does not cling to the truth out of fear or insecurities. This confidence and comfort allows him to listen, engage in dialogue, and place his trust in God.


Steph Curry on His Faith and Being a Role Model

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Doc McStuffins, Moana, and Steph Curry are the kids’ favorite role models—a frequent presence in our home from the tv screen to playtime to posters on the wall. As a toddler, my oldest daughter would walk around exclaiming, “Chef Curry with the pot boy!” Unlike Charles Barkley, who famously rejected being a role model, Curry, the two-time NBA champion and league MVP with the Golden State Warriors, recognizes that he is one and is comfortable with it. He spoke about being a role model, his ‘good boy’ reputation, and his faith in a recent interview with Complex:

I understand the opportunity I have and the magnitude of how many people look up to me. Not just to model their game after me, but also the character, values, and that kind of deal. But it’s not outside my normal daily life. It’s just how I live my life and how I was raised. The fact that that speaks volumes to people is amazing, but there isn’t any extra pressure or anything like that. It’s just who I am. So I guess that helps to be able to handle the spotlight that’s on me. I definitely appreciate the opportunity and the impact that I have, but I don’t really feel any extra pressure….

My faith is what helps me keep everything in perspective. I know I’ve been given these talents to play the game and this is my way to reach millions and millions of people through those talents. That’s what makes me appreciative of everything that happens, good or bad. My mom and my pops were obviously huge influences in that they set that foundation: Basketball is fun, but it’s not the highest priority….

During your career, have you ever faced opposition because of your Christianity or felt pressure to be a different person, or have a different persona?
For sure. Not everybody plays from the same perspective. A lot of people question my good boy vibes and whether it’s genuine or not. There’s always those questions about me and there’s a lot of trash talk that comes directed at me from that too. But if that’s the burden that I’m going to have to carry, then that’s pretty simple for me.